I’m interested in the substance of what is written by Spiked, how they present their arguments, and how they engage with the public.
Personally, I’m not that impressed. Spiked do not have a comment facility (I’ll come back to this point later), sometimes make claims that really should be referenced but are not, and they fail to engage with readers.
There are claims made about the testing of thalidomide that I was particularly interested in, but these claims were (sadly) not referenced: no sources for the claims were given. There are also unattributed comments quoted in the article and in one instance it is unclear to me whether these are direct quotes or a paraphrasing of a position.
I don’t want a Spiked writer to simply tell me that they know something – I want them to tell me how they know.
Back in September last year, I wrote to spiked-online and asked if they could back up one of these claims in particular. I didn’t even get a response.
There is a lack of transparency in Spiked articles such as the one I link to above. I cannot see where they get their information from, as they do not source claims. While there is nothing in the NUJ code of conduct that explicitly demands claims be sourced, there is a reference to obtaining material by “honest, straightforward and open means”.
It is unclear to me whether it is considered acceptable for journalists to make unsourced claims and provide unattributed quotes, but in my limited experience of blogging, it seems that such practices are considered to be unacceptable.
Key issues in the blogosphere are telling the truth, accountability, minimizing harm and attribution, although the extent to which bloggers follow their own ethical ideals can depend on the context and intended audience. […]
Truth telling involves honesty, fairness and completeness in reporting. Accountability involves being answerable to the public, bearing the consequences of one’s actions and revealing conflicts of interest […] Attribution covers issues such as avoiding plagiarism, honouring intellectual property rights and giving sources proper credit. [Quotes are from the news article.]
Spiked fail on the count of accountability, having no comment facility and refraining from responding to correspondence from readers. They might also be considered to fall down on attribution, given their failure to source any of their material in some articles. Non-personal bloggers apparently valued both attribution and truth-telling most. Spiked could learn from these bloggers.
Failing to reference claims and ignoring requests for citations are the sort of things that makes me wary of trusting what someone writes – for me, some of those writing for Spiked are basically journalists writing opinion pieces and I would give their opinions as much weight as I would to those of any hack writing an unsourced opinion piece.
This next quote from the news article sums up nicely my issue with Spiked’s failure to source quotes and claims:
Credibility counts. The authors suggest that non-personal bloggers practise truth telling, attribution and minimizing harm with similar frequency because they want their content taken seriously. As in journalism, offering readers sources and providing links makes for more convincing blogging than just telling the ‘truth’ alone.
Spiked articles do not have a comment facility. I find the comments on this blog very valuable, as readers will often raise relevant points that had not occurred to me or (more importantly) spot an error in what I have written.
My blogposts don’t have to go through peer-review before they are published. Once posted, though, they are subject to criticism, as well as suggested clarifications and corrections from my readers.
If I get something wrong, you can tell me.* I’ll even edit a post to correct an error – and acknowledge the edit.
If I don’t accept that I’ve made an error, then other readers can at least see that there is a disagreement. Spiked’s articles do not allow for transparent discussion of disputed ‘facts’.
The news article on the ethics of blogging linked to earlier in this post has some comment on self-regulation of the blogosphere:
Less ethical bloggers can also expect payback: the blogosphere is more interactive than traditional media, allowing instant and often vigorous feedback to bloggers that violate readers’ standards. This ‘sanction’ on unethical behaviour may replace the need for a formal blogging ethics code.
As Spiked is actually less interactive than traditional media (most newspapers have a letters page and online comment facility), it is more difficult to provide feedback. That I can only email them privately or discuss their failings on my own blog is less than satisfactory. My failings can be discussed openly in the comments section below. Readers will never see the criticism of Spiked articles they peruse unless they happen across it elsewhere.
I do not find unsourced arguments from unaccountable authors credible. I tend to ignore Spiked, and can only hope that others do likewise.
*Spiked do have a ‘corrections policy’ and a link that is supposed to go to a form you can use to submit corrections. Unfortunately, that link throws up a 404 error. You could try emailing them to point this out, but (alas) the email link leads to the same 404 page. I’ve dug out the email address I had for them and have dropped them a quick email just to let them know. Hopefully, their ‘corrections’ link will soon be working again.
Others may be concerned that Spiked Online is “an online mouthpiece for the libertarian LM group” (link) or that Spiked have an agenda (link). I’m more concerned with the actual material on their website, their sourcing of claims, and their accountability.
Richard Wilson has an interesting piece here which has details of the corporate sponsors of Spiked, but also makes this point:
As seems pretty clear in the two articles picked apart by Naomi and Gimpy, the arguments on Spiked are often so tortured that it’s difficult to believe that the author genuinely holds to what they’re saying.
Which of course begs the question why… Contrarianism clearly seems to be a part of it. As I learned at my sisters’ expense when I was growing up, disagreeing with other people for the sake of it can be both fun and entertaining, especially when you can see that people are getting really annoyed by it – and Spiked clearly do have a talent for winding everyone up.
I think Spiked might fit the description of Peter Hitchens given by Enemies of Reason:
Peter Hitchens is a proll – a professional troll. His entire reason for existing is to try and say something sufficiently outrageous or unjustifiable that it gets him some attention.
Edit, 19:21 14th June
1. *Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I have conflated two Spiked articles in the first paragraph on referencing claims. Sorry.
2. As Rob Lyons notes in the comments section, Spiked do accept some feedback and publish a limited selection relating to recent articles. (There is still, though, the issue of feedback regarding older posts on the site.)
3. Another commenter, Guyincognito76, has quite rightly noted that the mainstream media tend to be no better than Spiked in terms of sourcing quotes and claims. I agree with this point and will continue to highlight poor reporting from the mainstream media.
4. Rob Lyons appears to be under the impression that I am against animal testing and that this is my motivation for the post I have written on Spiked. Just to be absolutely clear – I am not against animal testing in drug development and do not believe that the co-option of the thalidomide case by animal rights activists to be justified. Here’s an old blogpost I wrote about thalidomide.